Dogs that chew furniture, eat slippers, and bark constantly while their owners are out of the house are natural pessimists according to new research done in the UK. It was initially believed that it was little more than separation anxiety whereby the animal becomes distressed at being apart from their owner but it turns out that the problem is much more deepset than scientists and animal behaviourists believed. Dogs that get upset when left alone believe that their owners aren’t going to return apparently.
The RSPCA funded research that saw scientists at the University of Bristol and scientists set about by initially comparing animal responses to typical human ones. However, this approach does not give the full picture because, according to professor Mike Mendl, emotions are naturally private and dogs do not think in the same way as humans.
The research does show that dogs, like humans, are naturally inclined to either be positive or negative in their beliefs. Some are optimists and some are pessimists and in the same way that humans can change their natural outlook so too can dogs, with help from behaviourists.
The study involved teaching dogs that if a bowl was placed in a certain position it would have food in, but if it were placed elsewhere it would be empty. The bowl was then placed in various positions between these two spots and the animals’ responses were measured to ascertain whether they were optimistic or pessmistic over the chance of their being food.
Those dogs that believed there would be food in the bowl when placed in new positions were those that were least likely to show signs of anxiety when seperated from their owners.